‘There’s no coffee here in Nilbog! It’s the Devil’s drink!’
Troll 2 has been climbing Worst of All Time lists for a few years. At this point, Plan 9 From Outer Space is unlikely to yield its Citizen Kane-like top spot (unless The Room takes over) and the whole notion of show-how-superior-you-are-by-laughing-at-miserable-rubbish charts strikes me as patronising. Personally, I despise Top Gun more than any of the famous schlock pictures – and I’d rather watch most of ‘em than the average Academy Award Best Picture winner. However, this in-name only follow-up to a midlist Charles Band quickie, made in Utah by Italians (Troll was made in Italy by Americans), is undeniably poor, entertaining with it and even throws out enough bizarre-even-in-this-context ideas to count as modestly original. By virtue of its botched attempts at horror, it’s a worthier, more amusing effort than any number of Troma films which are just as poor but try to shrug it off by giving up from the first and going for non-stop inane humour amid the exploitation elements.
The whitebread Waits family take part in a house swap with a clan from the sinister rural community of Nilbog. Young Joshua (Michael Stephenson) – advised in dreams by his dead, story-telling Gramps (Robert Ormsby) – knows from the outset that the Nilbogites, who all have four-leaf-clover scars, are secretly goblins (or trolls – Llort wouldn’t be as good a scary town name, though it sounds slightly Welsh). The goblins are intent on suckering the family into eating their bright green food to effect a gross transformation into vegetables suitable for goblin consumption — as strict vegetarians, and don’t eat people until they aren’t meat any more. On their first night in town, Joshua prevents Dad (George Hardy), Mom (Margo Prey) and sister Holly (Connie McFarland) from tucking into the food by peeing all over the table (‘You can’t piss on hospitality!’ shrieks Dad, ‘I won’t allow it!’). Holly is tailed to Nilbog by her wannabe boyfriend Elliott (Jason Cooper), who brings along the buddies (‘What about the beautiful liberated girls?’) she wants him to ditch and they provide additional goblin fodder. Little people in toothy masks and carnival-type papier-mache heads play the goblins, while the local maniacs give strident, hectoring, peculiar performances that still don’t match the ranting, strained acting tone of the supposedly ‘normal’ characters. Deborah Young is the most demented as witchy harridan ‘Creedence Lenore Gielgud’, who youths up to seduce Elliott by vamping him from a TV set and then in person (this sort of thing does seem like the kind of business found in a lot of 1980s Charles Band films).Director-writer Claudio Fragasso (aka Drake Floyd) favours zooms, non-stop electric organ music, green gloop, abrupt mood-switches and awkward English dialogue that sounds as if it’s been translated from Italian by a computer program recited by actors who’ve been ordered not to change a word. Sample exchanges: Joshua: ‘Are you nuts? Are you trying to turn me into a homo?’ Holly: ‘Wouldn’t be too hard. If my father finds you’re in here, he’ll cut off your little nuts and eat them. He can’t stand you.’; ‘Hey guys, did you hear that scream?’ ‘It was probably just Arnold, deflowering a Nilbog virgin.’ It throws in so many ‘evil little town’ clichés – including a character called Sheriff Gene Freak (Gary Carlson) – that only characters as dim as the Waits family would stick around, especially when the locals throw a cheery, singalong welcome-to-the-community party. By comparison, the townsfolk in Two Thousand Maniacs! seem understated, but there’s only so much amateurish gurning the mind can stand, and eventually the hit-or-miss tone becomes tiring and tiresome.
After several reels of hysteria with organ music, the Waitses summon the spirit of their Grandpa by séance to help overcome the evil. He reveals that this can be done by touching ‘the Stonehenge magic stone’ that supplies the goblins’ power. This monsters try to force Joshua to eat green goo but he scares the creatures away with ‘a double-decker baloney sandwich’. The witch shrieks about ‘the chloresterol’ – a limp gag that proves the filmmakers were occasionally trying and failing to be funny rather than just making a hash of proper horror; in fact, this is a malformed, mutated, half-done copy of the kind of horror/humour found in the original Troll (or the likes of Band’s Ghoulies, TerrorVision and Bad Channels). In the climax, the whole family touch the stone (applying ‘the power of goodness’) and the goblins are struck by lighting strikes out of a community theatre Lear, puke green goo, shriek a lot, fall off balconies, wave their hands and die. But they turn up again for the shock ending (‘they’re eating my Mom!’)
The MGM logo is peculiarly out of place on something like this, but Leo the Lion roars fore and aft – and Louis B. Mayer must be sicking up green gunk in his grave. Twenty years on, freckle-faced, awkward little brat leading man Stephenson put together a making-of documentary, Best Worst Movie.
Best Worst Movie (2009)
It’s hard to tell whether this documentary is an act of homage or of revenge. In 1989, child actor Michael Stephenson starred in a film called Goblin which wound up being released as Troll 2. His hopes of a major screen career were dashed when he got a VHS cassette of the film the next Christmas and realised how shoddy it was. Now, with Troll 2 added to the dishonor roll of famously terrible movies along with The Room or Birdemic, grown-up documentarian Stephenson returns to his millstone, a disposable piece of Italian schlock shot in America, and reunites with cast and crew-members to ride a brief wave of joke celebrity. The sad fact is that Troll 2 fails all over again, establishing a limited cult reputation through revival screenings and mock-the-afflicted-film parties but not crossing over to any kind of lasting stature even in a convention world where fans queue up for autographed photos of Hammer starlets or exploitation baddies with long lists of dud credits. Not only is genial Georgia dentist (and rollerblading tooth fairy cutup) George Hardy, who starred in the film presumably on the grounds of a slight resemblance to Poltergeist’s Craig T. Nelson, not a household name actor, he doesn’t even scrape the recognition of Vernon Wells, Martin Kove or Brinke Stevens.
Stephenson starts out with Hardy, much-loved in his community (even his ex-wife likes him, though his teenage daughter is properly sceptical when he starts getting more MySpace messages than her) and long over any ambitions he might have had as an actor. Hardy gets wind of the burgeoning Troll 2 cult, which consists mostly of negative postings on the IMDb, and invites himself to a New York screening, gamely muffing his signature line (‘You can’t piss on hospitality – I won’t allow it’) in front of an audience and touchingly accepting the ironic adulation of stoned geek hipsters without being irritated as they watch this entertainingly terrible film over and over while providing their own Mystery Science Theater 3000 wnnabe commentary track. An aside: I once saw a weird but interesting film (Leslie Stevens’ Incubus, an esperanto art film starring William Shatner) with an audience who treated it like this, and wound up wishing I could punch every single one of them in their smug, superior, unctuous faces; I loathe MST3000 and that Medved Golden Turkeys book, which commodify the experience of ‘bad’ cinema by layering extra badness in the form of not-funny snarky remarks coming from people who can’t tell the difference between a good or interesting low-budget genre film and a bad or dull one.
When director Claudio Fragasso and his scriptwriter wife Rosella Drudi show up at an LA screening, they react more testily to the crowds. Fragasso, who has a long list of enjoyably awful Italian films on his CV (Zombie 3 and 4, Rats: Night of Terror, etc), bristles as he realises the film’s ‘fans’ actually despise his work. Eventually, he’s screaming abuse at his now-grown-up-and-moved-on cast members as they trot out anecdotes about how he didn’t know what he was doing on set and none of them could even understand his broken English script. Stephenson refrains from comment as the film’s Italian editor states that without Troll 2 there wouldn’t be a Harry Potter* (!) and stays off-camera when looking up the former juve heroine Connie McFarland (who has gone on to at-least competent work as ‘Connie Young’ but leaves this off her resumé) and the weird-looking teen rat pack (it’s vaguely mentioned that many of these Utah-based actors were or are Mormons). He can’t avoid getting in front of the camera when he and Hardy look up the film’s leading lady, Margo Prey, who hides in an apartment with her immobilised mother behind a definitively scary ‘keep out’ notice and segues from seeming normality, giggling as she joins her visitors in re-enacting a driving scene on three chairs, into manic mode whereby she compares the film to Casablanca. Later, on a downswing, she refuses to come out of her apartment for a reunion, suggesting personal problems so severe this basically good-natured film can’t address them.
At the end, after twenty or more screenings and a couple of disastrous convention appearances, even the ever-smiling George Hardy has had enough of Troll 2. His disappointment when the hordes of fans proclaiming him the star of the worst film in the world dry up is perhaps even more profound than the simple sinking-without-trace on video and cable which happened in 1990. The most shudder-inducing side-effect is the announcement that Fragasso plans Troll 2, Part 2, perhaps to ram home the fact that he’s a serious filmmaker though it’s more likely he’ll be persuaded to attempt knowing, Troma-style rubbish comedy nonsense which will guarantee the result won’t be nearly as funny.
Update – Fragasso is still working, but hasn’t made his Troll 2, Part 2. Hardy reprised the role of ‘Michael Waits’ in a German film called Trolls World or Goblin Das is echt Troll, which might be two films (that’s how it’s listed on the IMDb). He also gamely acted in Cyst, where his style at least fits the knowing tone of the movie.
*This seems to be a mangled allusion to the fact that in John Carl Buechler’s Troll (aka Troll 1) Michael Moriarty plays a character called ‘Harry Potter’. But so does Lionel Barrymore in It’s a Wonderful Life.